Insurance and cancer

What is insurance?

Insurance is something you buy to protect you and your finances. There are many types of insurance:

  • life
  • health (private medical insurance)
  • income
  • mortgage payments
  • car
  • travel.

We have more information about the different types of insurance.

When you buy insurance, you take out an insurance policy. The policy is an agreement between you and the insurance company (insurer). The policy tells you what protection the insurer will give you, and how much money they pay out. This is called cover. The policy will also list what you are not covered for.

You pay for the insurance monthly or yearly. The payments you make are called premiums. How much you pay depends on your situation and the level of cover you need. Some insurance policies might be offered to you by your employer. This is called an employee benefit. Your employer takes out the policy and pays the premiums.

Some insurance policies have a waiver of premium benefit. This means you will not have to pay your insurance premiums if you cannot work because of illness or disability.

If something happens in your life you are covered for, you can make a claim. If the insurer gives you the money, this is called a payout.

Related pages

Can I get insurance after a cancer diagnosis?

If you already have a health problem before buying insurance, insurers call this a pre-existing condition. You usually have to tell insurance companies about pre-existing conditions such as cancer.

The insurer has to assess how likely you are to make a claim. You may be asked questions about your health. Your doctor may be asked to fill in forms, or you may be asked to have a medical examination.

The insurer may decide not to accept your application because of the cancer. Or they may ask you to pay a higher premium. They can do this, but only if they have the evidence to show you are more likely to claim because of your pre-existing condition.

You should not have problems getting insurance unrelated to health, such as home insurance.

You can call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 0000 and speak to our financial guides about insurance, including if you wish to make a complaint.

What questions will insurers ask?

The insurance company will ask about the cancer. Some of these questions might be hard to cope with. They might ask you whether the cancer can be cured. They need to do this to work out if they can offer you cover and how much it may cost.

If you find this difficult, you might want to ask an insurance broker or financial adviser to look for policies for you instead.

When you are choosing a broker or adviser, always check they are reliable and trustworthy. The British Insurance Broker’s Association has a list of brokers. You can call them on 0370 950 1790.

Preparing for questions

It might feel easier to talk to the insurer if you write down a few points before you call. This can save you having to think about it in the moment.

You may want to write down:

  • the type of cancer and when you were diagnosed
  • results of any tests and scans
  • the stage and grade of the cancer
  • your cancer treatment plan
  • any symptoms and side effects
  • other health conditions and treatments you have
  • medical history of your close relations, such as parents or siblings
  • any GP or hospital visits in the past year, for cancer and other conditions
  • any referrals to for appointments or tests that haven’t happened yet.

You can use our My records booklet to write down and record your diagnosis, care, treatment and appointments.

Is cancer covered by health insurance?

Private medical insurance (PMI) may help cover or repay the cost of private cancer treatment. Sometimes it can depend on the stage or the grade of the cancer. Private medical insurance will sometimes cover costs related to cancer treatment, such as wigs or prosthetics.

Macmillan Cancer support has worked with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to make sure insurers have a separate section explaining their cancer cover. This should list some agreed upon examples. You will need to check the wording of the policy. It may be helpful to talk it through with them.

You must get approval for any cancer treatment before it starts. Your private medical insurance can refuse to cover the costs if you do not do this.

Our financial guides can help you understand your private medical insurance policy, including what you may or may not be covered for. You can contact them on the Macmillan Support Line for free at 0808 808 0000.

What happens if I am likely to claim?

If an insurer thinks you are more likely than most people to claim, they may do the following.

  • Refuse to insure you

    If you are struggling to find insurance cover, an insurance broker might be able to help you. To find an insurance broker, contact the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) on 0370 950 1790, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

  • Charge you a higher premium

    If you have a medical condition, life insurance or health insurance might cost more. This is because the insurer may charge higher premiums to cover the risk.

  • Apply an excess

    An excess is an amount of money you have to pay towards the cost of making an insurance claim.

  • Apply an exclusion

    An exclusion is something not covered by the insurance policy. This might be a medical condition such as cancer. An exclusion means there would be no payout for anything related to that condition. If you choose a policy with exclusions, it is important to understand what is covered and what is not.

  • Agree to review at a later date

    If you are still having tests or treatment, an insurer might refuse to give you cover straight away. They may agree to review your application when you know about your diagnosis or finish treatment.

You might want to write down important points when you talk to different insurers. You can compare the different costs, excess amounts and exclusions before you decide. You can also look at websites comparing policies from different companies.

What is unfair discrimination?

Cancer is recognised by law as a disability. If you have or have had cancer, you are protected by the:

These acts make it illegal to treat people differently because of a disability.

But there are different rules for insurance. An insurer can treat a person with a disability differently if the disability increases the risk of them making a claim. But they can only do this if:

  • the risk of claiming assessment is based on relevant information
  • the information is from a reliable source, such as statistical data or medical reports
  • the way the insurer treats the person is reasonable, given the information available.

If asked, the insurer has to provide evidence to show they have met these conditions.

For information and support about unfair discrimination because of cancer, contact:

Can I get travel insurance if I have cancer?

If you have or have had cancer, it can be more difficult to get travel insurance. Some companies specialise in providing cover for people with cancer.

We have more information about buying travel insurance, including a checklist of things you might be asked.

Related pages

Who can I talk to about cancer and insurance?

If you have questions about your insurance policies, contact the insurer company.

Our financial guidance team can give you free, independent guidance on all aspects of your personal finances. This includes pensions, mortgages, insurance, retirement, borrowing and savings.

Our financial guides have experience of the financial services industry and can help people affected by cancer understand their options after a cancer diagnosis.

You can call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 0000 to speak to the financial guides team

Making a complaint

If you are unhappy about the service you get from an insurance broker, financial adviser or insurance provider, you can contact them to make a complaint.

We have more information about making a complaint and in our booklet Planning and managing your finances.

You can call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 0000 and speak to our financial guides to find out more.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Amanda South, Service Manager – Financial Guidance Team.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2023
Next review: 01 September 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.

How we can help

Macmillan Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line is a free and confidential phone service for people living and affected by cancer. If you need to talk, we'll listen.